RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — Women executives need to work more effectively to make sure their employees as well as corporate executives know what they’ve accomplished, Lori Raya, president of the Vons division of Safeway, said here Thursday at the 2013 Executive Leaders Forum sponsored by the Network of Executive Women.
“Years ago I spoke with the [former] chief executive officer of Safeway [Steve Burd], who told me I wasn’t delivering the kind of results my [male] predecessor had delivered. That’s when I realized he thought that because I was telling him what our team had done, rather than making clear what my leadership had done.
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“I learned I should have taken more credit — that I needed to be more bold and to speak up more while always being respectful.
“I used to let male executives lead the conversation. But now I feel the need to speak up as a leader. In fact, learning that was career-changing for me — that they want me to take charge.”
When Robert Edwards, Safeway’s new CEO, asked a group of executives what was right and wrong with the company, “he noticed that when one manager shared a negative opinion, nearly everyone leaned back while I was the only one who leaned forward and gave my own opinion,” Raya said. “That’s the kind of behavior CEOs expect, and it’s what they respect and appreciate.”
People at Safeway have recognized her boldness, Raya added. “My boss once said I don’t work for anyone — that I follow my own path — and it’s true that one attribute at which I excel is defiance. The people who work for me know I’m there to do the right thing for them and that I stand up for them, and they respond to me because I do that.”
Raya made her remarks as part of a panel discussing what makes female leaders effective.
Read more: Safeway Names Raya President of Vons
Katy Barclay, senior vice president, human resources, for Kroger Co., Cincinnati, agreed with Raya that women “ought to flex a lot — to be bold and to speak your mind, to distinguish between what your team did and what you did."
“We have to strike that balance.”
Barclay recalled what she called a bizarre incident during her previous career at General Motors when, during a labor negotiating session, her boss whispered in her ear, “Working with you, I don’t feel like I’m working with a woman.”
“He meant it as a compliment,” she said, “but I was shocked. I realized I was tamping down my gender, and that was a turning point for me. I determined I would not do that anymore — that I would not let anyone feel anything other than that they were working with a woman.
“So I changed and made sure I was more energized in my interactions with people and that my personality came out more. As a result of that change, people rallied around me and sought out my advice more often.”
Read more: Kroger's Barclay Chairs HR Group
Anne Fink, senior vice president of PepsiCo Sales, who was moderating the panel, said she has seen the power women can accumulate by being themselves “and not apologizing for it.”
Discussing her role as a leader, Raya said she spends up to four days a week at Vons’ stores.
“I try to remember when I was working in a store and how I felt when an executive came in. So when I go to a store, I go into a fact-finding mode and ask them how I can communicate with them. I also spend time walking around the office to find out each person’s passions, so I can figure out how I can best communicate my goals to my team.
“And the team has to adapt itself to the fact I don’t spend so much time in the office because you can’t sit in an office and know how ready your people are to move to the next level — they have to learn how to work when you’re not there.”
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